The Iroquis actually called themselves Haudenosaunee, which meant “people who live in the extended longhouses. “
The Iroquois' dwelling was called the longhouse. The stuctures were often 15 to 20 feet tall, twenty feet wide, and fifty to a hundred and fifty feet long. There would be a door at each end, and no openings along the sides. Above the door the families totem would be placed indicating the ancestrial animal.
The elm tree was a symbol of unity, it also represented a symbolic connection between the humans on earth and the sky beings above to the Iroquois people. The elm provided the material for the longhouses, canoes and baskets.
Each stucture housed numerous families. Depending on the size of the family or longhouse, three to five Cook fires would be located along the center aisle and placed about every twenty feet. Several smoke holes in the longhouse's roof let out smoke from several fire pits which were used to cook meals and for warmth. Each family had raised sleeping compartments where the family slept. Each house contained families of women belonging to the same clans.
A clan is a group of families who have a common ancestor. All the people in an Iroquois clan traced their heritage through their female ancestors, from their mother to her mother, to her mother's mother, and so on back to the original woman who started the clan. The Bear, Wolf, and Turtle clans were common to all of the Iroquois.
Each Iroquois person was born into a clan and remained in that clan for life. Being related, people within a clan could not intermarry, one had to marry someone in a different clan. When a young woman married, her husband came to live in her longhouse, where they would make their new home. When a young man married, he moved away from the longhouse where he'd been raised into his wife's longhouse, but he continued to have close ties with his own clan.They would sometimes have to go back seven generations to find the common ancestor. Seven is a significanr number to the Iroquois, orators talk of drawing upon the wisdom of the seven generations and the responsibility to the seven generations of our future children.
To the Iroquois people, the longhouse was more than the building where they lived. The longhouse was also a symbol for many of the traditions of their society. Within the Iroquois Confederacy, the five nations shared a territory they thought of as a large longhouse. The Senecas, who lived in the western end of this territory, were the "Keepers of the Western Door" of the Longhouse. The Mohawks, who lived in the eastern end of the territory, were the "Keepers of the Eastern Door". The Onondagas held the important role of "Keepers of the Central Council Fire and Wampum". To the modern Iroquois people, the Longhouse remains a powerful symbol of the ancient union and is important to many traditions.By the end of the nineteenth century the longhouse would disappear as a family dwelling but would still be a stucture used as a community center for key religious ceremonies and community meetings.